Carpentry Tools | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Carpentry Tools

The craft of carpentry involves the shaping of wood for architectural, utilitarian or ornamental purposes. European colonists who settled what is now Canada brought with them a rich heritage of CRAFTS and craft tools.

Tools, Carpentry

The craft of carpentry involves the shaping of wood for architectural, utilitarian or ornamental purposes. European colonists who settled what is now Canada brought with them a rich heritage of CRAFTS and craft tools. In N America the highly trained and experienced craftsmen worked mainly in the cities and towns; settlers and farmers, in urgent need of dwellings and furnishings, often had to be their own carpenters. Government immigration pamphlets encouraged settlers to bring a "good box with tools." These implements were used to fell trees, to build shelters, FURNITURE and vehicles, and to make a range of objects for the home and farm (ie, WOODENWARE). Industrialization, accompanied by machine TECHNOLOGY, made such craftsmanship redundant and the older tools are collected today as reminders of our pioneer past. The following is a short list of selected woodworking tools.


Of all the woodworking tools brought from Europe, the axe was the most widely used and most urgently needed, for it was the tool that cleared the land and provided wood for construction and fuel. The European axe was not well suited to pioneer conditions, and in the course of settlement British colonists developed the American axe. The blade of this implement is moderately flared and the socket for the handle is long; the head is extended above the socket as a narrow, hammerlike poll. The handle (helve) is also distinctive, having an S-curve, which allows for a more natural sliding movement of the right hand during the stroke.

The pioneer dwelling, the LOG HOUSE, was constructed by placing logs one above the other to form 4 walls, the corners being secured by some form of joint. The logs were usually squared, ie, the convexities on all 4 sides were chopped away to form a roughly squared cross section. Squaring was done with a broadaxe, in which the cutting edge was long and the blade flat on one side, concave on the other. In use, the hewer stood near the log and swung the axe in a vertical arc, working his way along the log and leaving a neatly defined flat side.

A variety of small axes (hatchets) were developed for special applications. In the adze, used for fine trimming of timbers, the blade is at right angles to the socket and handle, and slopes or curves slightly toward the user.


The saw, next to the axe the most basic woodworking tool, is a flat metal blade, with one serrated edge. In most saws the teeth are "set," ie, bent a little, alternately, to one side or the other, to produce a cut (kerf) wider than the blade, thus avoiding binding. The saw was used primarily to produce boards. A pit saw, ie, a long blade with large teeth and a handle at each end, was employed. It was operated by 2 men; the log was propped up at one end or extended over a pit. When boards were available, the handsaw was the most important tool for cutting. There are 2 kinds of handsaw: the crosscut saw, a smaller saw, with finer, pointed teeth, intended for cutting across the grain of the wood; and the ripsaw, which has larger teeth with chisellike points, for cutting with the grain.

The keyhole saw, used for cutting circular openings or curved edges, has a very narrow tapering blade. The tenon saw, a short wide blade with the upper edge reinforced with a metal bar, is used for making fine cuts at various angles. Framed saws have narrow flexible blades, kept rigid by a springy bow (bucksaw) or a twisted rope stretched between extensions of the handle (bow saw). Fine carpentry requires a variety of small saws, mostly miniature framed saws (eg, coping saw, fretsaw). Fitted to a foot-powered mechanism, the flexible blade became a jigsaw.


Various carpentry tools employ a cutting edge: in the drawknife, the blade is mounted between 2 handles and pulled by the operator to shave off slices of wood; in the chisel, the long narrow blade with the cutting edge at the far end is pushed or hammered to cut grooves or holes. The gouge is a chisel with a trough-shaped blade and a curved edge, used for cutting depressions and rounded grooves.

The most variable slicing tool is the plane, in which a chisellike blade is mounted at an angle in a wooden block or metal frame, the cutting edge protruding forward through an opening in the base of the tool. The plane is pushed along the wood and the cutting edge peels off a layer (ie, shaving). Planing smooths an edge or a surface. Specially shaped cutting edges and blocks enable the plane to cut grooves, channels, steps (rabbets) and moldings. Planes vary in size from the long jack plane for smoothing to tiny cabinetmaker's planes for delicate trimming.

Boring Tools
The awl has a narrow blade with pointed or chisel-shaped end and is pushed or hammered into wood to make a hole. The auger is like a miniature gouge and is used with a twisting motion. The spiral drill is screwlike, with cutting edges at the lower end. It is used in a mount, usually a brace, which is a sort of hand crank, permitting rotation and application of pressure at the same time.

The file is a steel blade with transverse grooves on one or both sides. When pushed across a surface, the sharp edges of the grooves cut into and remove material. The rasp has small projections instead of grooves and cuts more quickly but more roughly than the file. Both are used for minor smoothing and shaping.

Pieces of wood can be held together by joints, pegs or glue, but the usual device for this purpose is the nail, a slender piece of metal (usually IRON) pointed at one end and expanded into a head at the other. Nails were originally shaped individually in a small forge on a miniature anvil. Later they were made by cutting oblique strips from a sheet of metal. Modern nails are formed from extruded, wirelike steel rods.


The carpenter's hammer or claw hammer, used to drive nails, has a head with the upper end drawn into a pair of curved claws. The tapered slot between the claws is used to grasp a protruding nail, which can then be extracted by pulling on the handle. The mallet has a wooden head and is used to drive chisels.

A special kind of woodworking is the manufacture of barrels (cooperage), which employs modified forms of hatchet, adze, drawknife and plane to form the curved, tapered staves and the circular bottom and lid. The importance of barrels, kegs, tubs and pails at one time made cooperage a widely practised craft. Some simple tools were made, and tools and utensils were repaired by the local BLACKSMITH.

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